28 July 2009

Amsterdam: A city I will only need to experience once

Friday 17 July 2009

We got on a coach bus very early in the morning to make our way to Amsterdam. I don't actually remember anything from the first leg of the trip because I was asleep. We had a very rude awakening when we reached Dover, England - everyone had to get off the bus whilst the ferry made its way across the English Channel on its way to Calais, France. We got back on the bus when we reached Calais and we continued on our journey to Amsterdam - once again, I don't remember much because I was sleeping. We reached Amsterdam around 18:00 and got checked into our hostel which was located in the middle of the Red Light District.
We went on a tour of the Red Light District after we checked in. What an experience. I learned more historical information about prostitution that I think I even needed to know - I got a full accounting of prostitution from when it first started in Amsterdam to present day. The way that "things" work now, is that the "ladies" rent a window for the day and just stand there scantily clad waiting for a "customer". It was interesting to see the range of women that were there...all kinds of women in fact - young ones, old ones, thin ones, fat ones - it was kind of like one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish. We also saw the oldest church in Amsterdam...right in the middle of the Red Light District. After the tour we walked around for a bit and got dinner. Oh yea - it is perfectly OK to pee in public...they have even set up men urinals on the streets.
Saturday 18 July 2009

We woke up early on Saturday so that we could visit go on a tour of the countryside of the Netherlands. Our first stop was a cheese and wooden shoe factory. We didn't actually get to see the cheese being made. They explained the process to us, but we didn't actually get to see them making it which was sad. We still had fun though. We got to sample all of the different kinds of cheese they make there - I bought three different kinds and a cheese slicer. The wooden shoe factory was just a short walk - across the parking lot in fact - away from the cheese factory. The best part about the wooden shoe factory was getting to try them on - I'm a size 37 :)
Our second stop of the day was at Zaanse Schanse, a living Dutch museum. We were supposed to explore how the Dutch would have lived way back when and go see windmills, but we mostly looked at the souvenir shops that where there. Then we got lost after we used the bathroom. Oh well. We went back into Amsterdam after we left Zaanse Schanse.
In the afternoon we had time to ourselves so we went to the Van Gogh Museum. The Van Gogh paintings that were there were beautiful, but only one of the floors actually had Van Gogh on it - the other two floors had other artists. We took the tram back to our hostel which was exciting. It was like taking the subway, a bus, and a trolley all in one - plus it was free because we couldn't figure out how to pay.
Sunday 19 July 2009

On Sunday we departed Amsterdam to make our way back to Calais to catch the ferry, but on the way we stopped in Bruges, Amsterdam for a couple of hours. Let me tell you, this was maybe the best part of the entire weekend. Bruges was so beautiful. According to the International Friends website, Bruges is Europe's best preserved Medieval City - they were right. I have never seen such lovely old buildings! We needed more time there for sure. We got Belgian waffles for lunch and then found a cute outdoor market.
Follow this link to see the rest of my pictures from Amsterdam:


20 July 2009

Ireland by Bus

Wednesday 8 July 2009

In preparation for our flight to Ireland, Mel and I thought it best to just not go to sleep as our bus to the airport was picking us up at 03:15am. In hindsight, this may have not been a bad idea. It was surprisingly easy to stay awake until then - we packed and took showers - but we missed four hours of our first day in Ireland because we had to take a nap.

Thursday 9 July 2009

We got to the airport much earlier than needed. Apparently international flights aren't that big of a deal over here because an hour would have been most sufficient and we arrived two and half hours earlier. Trying not to fall asleep, we waited for Starbucks to open so that we could get something for breakfast - no coffee though because we wanted to be able to sleep on the plane. It worked, because Mel and I both fell asleep before the plane even took off. The flight was very short. It seemed like we were ascending and descending within minutes of getting in the air.

We arrived in Dublin, Ireland around 08:30am and got a bus into the city centre. Luckily, Mel had picked up a map of Dublin before we left, so we only got a little lost trying to find the hostel. We were thankful that they let us check in early because our beds were calling our names. We stayed in a room with 20 beds - it wasn't that bad though because it was like a long hallway with five little cubbies holding 2 sets of bunkbeds.
We napped for around four hours before we ventured out into the city. First on our list was getting lunch. We got paninis and sat in the courtyard of Christchurch Cathedral. It was a lovely little spot, a little wet, but lovely nonetheless and our paninis were delicious! After lunch, we made our way to the Guiness Storehouse to take the tour.
The Guiness Storehouse tour was a little disappointing in that we didn't actually get to see them brewing the beer. The brewing has actually not been done in the storehouse for some time now and all that is left is an exhibit that they've created that talks about the brewing process - all the ingredients and what not - and then it also has stuff about Arthur Guiness and Guiness advertising. I enjoyed myself though. The way they presented the information was just the right balance between words and pictures to keep my attention. :) The tour ends in the Gravity Bar which is the highest point is Dublin where they give you a complimentary pint of Guiness. Mel and I choked down about a half a pint each then admitted defeat and went to St. Patrick's Cathedral.
St. Patrick's Cathedral was a wash. There was a service going on. Needless to say, we didn't actually get to go inside. We walked around the outside to take pictures. Then, while I sat and figured out where we should go next, Mel took a nap in the grass. At this point it was late enough that we didn't really want to try to do anything else so we just got dinner, at an American diner no less. It was awesome - a bit pricey - but awesome! I had the best hamburger since I've been abroad and CHEESE FRIES! When we got back to our hostel we realized that we had a cubby-mate. His name was John and he was from Chicago! We chatted with him for quite awhile before going to bed - we even made friends with him on facebook the next day!
Friday 10 July 2009

We woke up very early because the tour that we had scheduled was leaving at 08:15am. Luckily, the headquarters for Shamrocker Tours was located in the lobby of our hostel, so we didn't have to get up quite as early as the other girls who were going on the tour with us. We loaded on the bus and headed toward the Rock of Cashel. Located in Cashel, County Tipperary, the Rock of Cashel was the traditional seat of kings for the province of Munster before the Norman invasion. It was raining and the ground was slippery and I slipped down the hill as we were leaving to head to our next destination.
The next stop on the tour was the Mitchelstown Caves. For all of you reading this from the Madison area, it was like Cave of the Mounds except not as cool AND we weren't allowed to take pictures! There were formations in there that I had never seen before. Instead of the standard stalagmite or stalactite, they were called "curtains" and they only form on sloping cave walls. They were most beautiful and kind of reminded me of Georgia O'Keeffe flower paintings. You should google them to see what they look like!

The third stop of the day was the Blarney Castle. And yes, we all kissed the Blarney Stone! Apparently, kissing the Blarney Stone gives you the "gift of the gab" which means that you will have the gift of BS for the rest of your life, which I'm not sure I need because I'm pretty good at it already. What an awkward experience. You have to lay on your back then someone slides you backward until you are close enough to kiss it and they help you back up. One of the girls on the tour with me actually hit her head on the Blarney Stone because the guy pulled her up too quickly.
Our hostel for the night was located in Killarney. It was rather lovely. The six of us got to share a room and they had free wi-fi, so we took turns using Mel's iPod touch to access our email and facebooks because goodness knows we can't go a whole weekend with it. We had a lovely dinner - albeit more expensive than any of us would have liked - at The Granary with our bus driver. Then we walked around the town a little bit. It was very touristy.

Saturday 11 July 2009

We were on the bus by 08:30am for day two of our tour of Southern Ireland. The first stop, very quickly because it was raining, was at Dingle Peninsula -
a very lovely spot where people like to surf.
In between, we stopped to take pictures at Beehive Huts.
Afterward, we stopped, very briefly again because it was still raining, at Lahinch - the western most point of Europe.
On the bus ride to the Cliffs of Moher we were informed that scenes for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince were filmed there, so we all got very excited! Luckily, the rain let up just long enough for all of us to have a proper look around. It was very windy though and several times every one of us was nearly blown over. The Cliffs were so beautiful.
We drove to Doolin where we would be staying for the night. I really enjoyed it there because there were no tourists in site. It was frustrating though that there were only four pubs in town and they all served the same food and were all expensive. We picked the one that was closest to our hostel, naturally, and we met two very lovely couples who were vacationing in Doolin and we chatted for a better part of the evening. We got Irish coffees and pints out of it - pretty good deal if I do say so myself.
Sunday 12 July 2009

The morning went just the same as the day before - on the bus by 08:30am and on to the sites of the day.

Our first stop was at a Fairy Ring. Celtic folklore says that these are places to be avoided - especially walking inside of one - because if you do you will be cursed. It was an odd and lovely place.
Burren Plateau and Pol na Brone Dolmen - limestone formations and a burial site
Clonmacnoise - an old Monastic settlement

Whiskey Distillery
We went back to Dublin in the evening. Mel and I walked around for a while, but because it was so late everything was closed as it was Sunday. We left very early Monday morning to return to London.

Click on this link to view my facebook album from my trip to Ireland: